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Veterans Day, celebrated each year on Nov. 11, honors American military men and women for their loyal and dedicated service to their country. Veterans from all branches of the armed forces who served the United States in all wars and during peacetime, especially living veterans, are honored on this day.
Three Evanston residents of Three Crowns Park, Mary Stone Senn, John Strom and Richard Trueheart, are among the World War II veterans who, more than 60 years after they served, traveled with the Honor Flight Network to Washington, D. C. The not-for-profit Honor Flight Network was founded to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice. Top priority is given to America’s most senior heroes – veterans of World War II – and veterans with a terminal illness, but Korean War, Vietnam War and other veterans will be included on a chronological basis. As of 2010, the website says, HFN had transported 22,149 veterans to the U.S. capital.
Ms. Senn, Mr. Strom and Dr. Trueheart, who visited Washington at different times, recently shared their stories with the RoundTable.
Mary Stone Senn
More than 150,000 American women served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during WWII. Among them was Mary Stone (now Senn), who signed up and served until sometime after VJ Day.
A student at the University of Chicago, she says she left because she was an idealist and wanted to help in the effort to win the global war. When she was discharged at the end of the war, Ms. Senn held the rank of Private First Class.
Her wartime service was stateside at the Morrison Army Airfield in Florida. She trained at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois in teletype school, learning the advanced technology of the time. Ms. Senn’s office responsibility was to operate the SIGABA, which could encipher and decipher typed-in text. The SIGABA depended on a secret daily “key list” of machine settings to keep enemy cryptologists from decoding messages. It printed the letters on a paper tape, allowing a single person to operate it.
After the war Ms. Senn continued to assist in routine army communications and worked alternating shifts sending information around the world until she was discharged. She returned to the University of Chicago and graduated in 1947.
On July 21, 2011, Mary Stone Senn was flown to Washington on an Honor Flight Chicago. Ms. Senn says, “Taking in the sights of our capital is an emotional experience like no other. We stopped at many of the memorials I had not seen, so I had plenty of chances to feel these emotions. Nothing can quite equal seeing our Marines doing the colors ceremony in their full regalia and with an especially good trumpet player. The Iwo Jima monument, the WWII impressive structure and park, and, especially, [the companion facility of] the National Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport – nobody can see these without pride and gratitude.”
Dr. Richard Trueheart
Dr. Richard Trueheart, a retired physician, was a guest of HFC on Aug. 21. Born in Sterling, Kan., he was drafted into the army after a year and a half of pre-med training. After completing basic training at Camp Barkley in Texas, Mr. Trueheart, not yet trained as a physician, was transferred to O’Riley Hospital in Springfield, Ill., and was specially trained as a surgical technician. Although Mr. Trueheart was about to be shipped out, his orders were changed at the last minute, and he was assigned to stay at the 2,000-bed hospital. His responsibilities included working in the paraplegic ward and setting up instrument trays. He scrubbed alongside the surgeon, handing him instruments, and also assisted as a technician in neurosurgery.
The workload was intense and, he says, there was no let-up, as there was such a backlog of surgical patients. Military personnel were being shipped back to the States and then flown to various U.S. hospitals to be treated for their injuries. Ten months after VJ Day, Mr. Trueheart was discharged.
Dr. Trueheart says his experience as a surgical technician strengthened his determination to finish college and attend medical school. He enrolled immediately upon his discharge at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and became a pathologist who spent his career studying disease.
Dr. Trueheart writes, “The Chicago Honor Flight was an exciting, emotional and memorable day.” From Midway Airport, where he encountered volunteers and military personnel cheering his group as they entered, to their departure from Dulles International Airport, he says, the day was extraordinary. He writes, “The most impressive was the wall of 4,000 gold stars, each representing 100 service men and women who gave their lives, totaling 400,000 who died. The stars beautifully reflected onto a pool which symbolized for me the spirit of those heroes.”
John Strom has been instrumental in sharing information about the Honor Flights with other veterans at Three Crowns. He flew to Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2010, along with 86 other WWII veterans. His group was met with much ceremony at Dulles Airport for the one-day trip. They went first to the Iwo Jima Memorial and then to the WWII Memorial. “It is difficult to describe the impact of the Memorial on the veterans,” he says. “It is like hallowed ground. It is a grand place with a quiet dignity. It is a welcome home for a job well done. The wreath ceremony was impressive, with a color guard representing all branches of service. Next were the Vietnam wall and the Korean Memorial, with final stops at the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.”
Back at Midway, the reception was overwhelming. As the veterans entered the terminal, the Chicago Bagpipe Band was playing, and in another part of the terminal they were met by some 200 soldiers standing at attention and saluting and 100 Motorcycle Warrior Watch Club members.
Mr. Strom writes, “Then the really emotional part of the parade unfolded. We came to escalators that would take us down to the main floor. On the main floor were about 1,000 relatives, friends, school kids, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and travelers cheering, clapping, waving flags and holding signs. … We veterans paraded down the center, shaking hands, receiving hugs and a few kisses for what we had done during our time in service.”
Mr. Strom graduated from Evanston Township High School in 1941. As an ETHS student he participated in the military training the school offered during the school day – sort of like an R.O.T.C. program, he says. He was drafted in January of 1943 and sent to Camp Robinson in Arkansas for training as a military instructor.
He became a member of the 70th Infantry Division (known as the Trailblazers), was part of the 274th Infantry Regiment (G Company) and fought in the European theater in northern Italy and eastern France before taking part in the final advance into Germany.
More information on Honor Flight Chicago is available at www.honorflightchicago.org.